Things That Matter

Congress Passes Legislation That Will Start Work On Latino, Women History Museums

Update December 22, 2020

Congress has finally voted to pass legislation for the National Museum of the American Latino Act in a last-ditch effort. The bill was included in the $900 billion stimulus relief package. After years, the bill, with overwhelming bipartisan support minus Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has finally passed.

Latinos and women are so much closer to having their own Smithsonian museums.

After two decades, both the House and the Senate voted to approve funds to start working towards creating new museums. The National Museum for American Latinos and the Smithsonian’s Women’s History Museum are closer to becoming a reality. The funding was included in the $900 billion stimulus relief bill.

“As a first-generation Cuban American, I know what it’s like to feel invisible in a nation where Latinos are seldom celebrated,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. told NBC News. “I am enormously proud of my role in getting this legislation over the finish line and cannot wait until the day when I can take my granddaughters to visit the National Museum of the American Latino in our nation’s capital.”

Update December 18, 2020

Supporters of the Latino Smithsonian museum are pushing back after Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) single-handedly blocked the voice vote for the bipartisan bill. The Republican senator felt it would be divisive to give women and American Latinos a museum filled with their accomplishments to American society.

We are not done with fighting for Smithsonian museums for Latinos and women.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to leaders of the Senate and Congress to include the National Museum of the American Latino Act, HR 2420 in the spending bill. Congress is currently working to avoid a shutdown by passing a spending bill and advocates want the bill included.

The bill itself does not create the museum. It simply starts the process of creating the museum, which must include a feasibility study, private funding and site location studies.

“Latinos have contributed significantly to America’s success while overcoming systemic discrimination, and our stories have been largely erased from U.S. history,” Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) told NBC News. “The fact that Mike Lee, a United States senator, has no knowledge of the Latino experience further demonstrates the need for a Latino museum.”

Update December 11, 2020

Everyone expected a bill to create the National Museum of the American Latino Act and the American Women’s History Museum under the Smithsonian Institute to pass. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) had other plans for the bipartisan legislation.

Sen. Mike Lee single-handedly blocked legislation to create Smithsonian museums for Latino and women’s history.

The bill has been steadily advancing in Congress with strong bipartisan support. It was expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support but one senator dashed those dreams. Sen. Lee claimed that creating the two new museums would further divide the nation.

“The last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation within an array of separate but equal museums of hyphenated identity groups,” Sen. Lee said. “At this moment, in the history of our diverse nation, we need our federal government and the Smithsonian Institution itself to pull us closer together and not further apart.”

Sen. Lee is already feeling pressure from the public and fellow politicians over the speech.

“I don’t know if these arguments were made against the Native Americans. I don’t know if these arguments were made against African Americans, but I don’t see them as being separate and apart,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “I see them as part of the collective history mosaic that is coming together under the Smithsonian.”

Update November 19, 2020

The Smithsonian museums on the National Mall showcase different parts of American history and culture. Latinos, however, are missing from the representation and some people are fighting to change that. A bill is officially being considered by the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Senate is finally taking up legislation for a Latino museum with the Smithsonian.

The legislation is one of the pieces of legislation that has strong bipartisan support. The bill was introduced in 2019 by Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and has been sitting still since. However, the movement to start a Latino museum was started in 2004 with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced a bill to start exploring the possibility of the museum.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee held hearings for two bills seeking two different museums. The hearings of S.959, Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum Act; and S.1267, National Museum Of The American Latino Act happened Tuesday, Nov 17. Eva Longoria Bastón was among the people to speak at the hearings.

“When you don’t have representation in the official record, these contributions are effectively erased,” Longoria said on the panel in defense of both museums.

Updated August 13, 2020.

Last July the country moved closer to opening a Smithsonian museum dedicated to Latinos. On July 27, the U.S. The House of Representatives voted on the measure in a voice vote that passed.

In late July, the House of Representatives passed legislation moving us closer to a Latino Smithsonian museum.

The Smithsonian is a collection of museums in Washington on the Nationa Mall. The museums highlight U.S. history throughout the centuries through art, science, natural history, and contributions to American society. For years, history was very limited as there were no museums honoring the people of color who have contributed to American society. That all changed with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Soon, Latinos could have their own museum as well.

Speaking about the newly passed bill this week, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) described the passing as 26-years in the making. “Latino history is American history… Latinos were the only group, that their contribution to our culture and our history, wasn’t properly recognized,” Hurd said. “Bipartisan things can still happen up here in Washington, D.C.”

For years, politicians and their supporters called for a Latino history museum in Washington.

UCLA released a report that echoed the sentiment of a Smithsonian report in 1994. The two reports agree that not enough has been done to highlight and teach the history and contributions of Latinos in the U.S. Twenty-six years apart and both studies find the same lack of representation.

Latinos in power come together and really made moves on this bill.

“It’s time for Latinos to see our contributions, our culture and our history reflected in all institutions, including the Smithsonian museums,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia said on the House floor. “It’s time for our children to come to a museum and see the stories of their own heritage.”

The Latino community, like every other community, has contributed to the U.S. in all aspects of society.

The bill had 295 cosponsors and years of support. The Friends of the National Museum of the Latino American, a nonprofit, has been advocating for the museum since 2004.

“It is a wonderful feeling to know that the House of Representatives has come to realize the importance of an institution that can recognize and commemorate the over 500 years of Latino contributions to the founding, shaping, building, and the defending of this country,” Danny Vargas, chairman of the board of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, told NBC. “We’re elated.”

The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is already being welcomed with bipartisan support.

While there’s still a long road ahead before we can expect to see a museum, Hurd says the current bill has already laid out a board to tackle all the details. First goal on the agenda? Raise $700 million in donations to make the historical museum a reality.

READ: The Smithsonian Is Opening The First Permanent Latino Gallery In 2021 Highlighting Latino Contributions

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